The Debt We Owe to Religion (Quran Vocabulary Series)

The Arabic word commonly translated as "religion" is deen. "Religion" is a fairly good translation, but as many will point out, there is a problem in the modern idea of religion that diminishes the value of the word for this translation. (This is a linguistic argument, not a point to make against modernity.) Religion has come to mean different things because of secular cultural pressure, a common influence in definitions: Religion may mean certain hollow rites that people do during certain seasons of the year; or peculiar acts taken over by culture or family pressure, although they once were connected to devotion; or charming involvement with some vague tradition, with shades of transcending meaning or none at all, stuff that add color to how we live. The relationship of religion binding with the unseen and the Hereafter has become almost vestigial. That really creates a translation problem for deen (although "religion" is still hard to replace, if not impossible). "Religion" means literally to "reconnect" or "form a bond," namely, to bind one's will with God ("lig" as in "ligature," to tie together something, and "ligament," the connective tissue that binds bone to bone). "Religion" has lost its sense of a way of life, for if you connect with God, it becomes a relationship that takes over.

Sermon-talk aside, way of life really does inform what the Arabic word deen implies, for deen is actually a short explanation as to why we live at all, if we look closely at the word's original meaning. Linguistically, deen comes from root word dayana, from which dayn derives-"debt" that must be paid back. So there's connection between debt and religion, as one considers that we are essentially accountable beings who come into this world with a debt to fulfill, a debt due to God-a debt that grows as we mature into adults, charged with volition and discernment. Daily in our prayers, we recite that God is Malik Yawm al-Deen: Master of the Day of Judgment- a day in which all debts are settled, a day of retribution-pay back in other words. Sermon-talk resumed, had it not been for His mercy and grace, it would be impossible to fulfill that debt to God. Yet He makes it easy through religion, which magnifies the small things we do: He reveals human obligations and a Sacred Law that has a mighty purpose, live right (live a good life) and to prepare us for a Day of Debt-a day in which there is no mercy but His, no refuge but with Him. To devote some time in a day, an hour of a week, or a month in a year, by all logic, should appear to be short in paying our debt, especially when we consider the payoff in the Hereafter of an eternity in Gardens of amazing peace, bliss, and constant fulfillment, with never a burden or fear-always lucky. Today, I have perfected your religion [deen] for you, and completed My blessing upon you, and I have chosen Islam as your religion (Quran, 5:3). Clearly, deen is the medium through which we understand our purpose and the path that helps us fulfill a purpose that, on our own accord, would be beyond reach, hence the grace of deen, a religion that multiplies a small investment into what is beyond calculation. We tend to forget, at a deep level, that God created us, blessed us with existence, and has given us all that we make use of, all that we see, all that we spend and consume, all the senses that we apply to learn and find relief-all of everything. If we reflect on what we owe to our parents for their care and nurturing, then imagine what we "owe" to God?

Ibrahim N. Abusharif is a Chicago-area editor and writer. He's currently working on a concise vocabulary reference to the Quran. He may be reached at [email protected] You may visit his blog:

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  15 Comments   Comment

  1. mohd alameen abusadeeq from nigeria

    iam educated with this atricle this a greate work i will like to get more of this thanks and may Allah reward you

  2. nasir mansur ridwan from nigeria

    this is the very nice artical,atlise it can show the people that, the islam has it's language,may Allah reward you and give you his bounty Amin

  3. am from KSA

    This was a wonderful article. It gives so much insight, mash'Allah.

  4. Larry Smith from U.S.A


  5. abdulmalik suleiman from nigeria

    Salam Alaykum,

    We muslims should go back to the drawing board and try all possibilities in ensuring that Al-Islam is sustained in all ramification: OUR HOMES, BUSINESSES, SOCIETY AND OUR LIVES, based on the Qur'an and the Sunnah.We need to rethink to understand what Islam is.

  6. Idowu Abioye from Nigeria

    Jazaakallaahu khayraan!

    Dr.AbdurRaheem Adesola Idowu ABIOYE (aka:Abu-Sheriff)05/08/2007

  7. leila from kenya

    thanks it's a very teaching article. Allah bless u

  8. oyetunji bashir from nigeria

    thanks for the subscription.i really appreciate comment is just that you should pls do a kind of book or magazine on all this topics and send or post it to your subscriber so that it will be useful for other peaple.may Allah help us.maa salam.

  9. Abdulkadir from Nigeria

    An intresting article. JazaakALLAH khair, wa zaadakALLAH eeman, wa ikhlaasan, wa tawfeeqan.

  10. ahmed asgher from bahrain

    I liked this article until its ending when it says we "owe" God. God is beyond need. We don't owe Him anything. It implies that we have something of value to give God.

    Life is given to us in 'trust' (deen) and thus we owe it to 'ourselves' to perfect it. Its like someone give you something of value in trust and when he returns you have to give it back in the same form or better. Thus life is a gift from Allah given to us to perfect and when we die (meet/return to HIM) we have to show that ,at least, we have not wasted it.

    Deen, translated as religion, is actually 'a way of life' but English language has no such direct word.

    So, a Muslim who uses Islam as a way of life and puts his 'trust' in God can expect to realise the purpose behind life (gift) given to him in trust by Allah.

  11. Ashraf from USA

    Very nice article.....May Allah bless you....jazakallah

  12. Nabi Naser from USA

    JazakAllah Khair for the much needed reminder

  13. Raheem Lukman from Nigeria

    shukran for the article of this week, i really enjoy it and if most people could take time to read the message i think their mind will be brought to saying of the Holly quran as stated in the article ( alyaom akmaltu lakun dinukum watmumtu alaikun nimoti waroditulakum islam dinun, wamon yakbal qairal islam dinun falan yakbal minhu fahuwa minal ahirati minal hasirin) sadaqallahu-lazim. alahumma aisal islam wal-muhumini walmuslimina and muslimat fi rubuil alamina. this is where i can go far for this moment.


  14. Bilikis from South Africa

    As-salaam alaykum

    I think the reason for this is not farfetched as man is the most ungrateful of Allah's creatures.But Allah knows us too well even when he decided to give us freewill.The freewill that we have abused which makes us ungrateful beings.We owe a lot to our religion.I think it is also lack of faith because some people say"I've heard that the world would come to an end ever since I was born,and my father said the same thing,so did my grandfather,but the world still exists.It only means we would never die and life goes on".However idiotic this sounds,it is the reasoning of some which is why they are not preparing for the world beyond.They do not believe those heavenly promises of Paradise would come.They do not believe there's life after death.They deny the favours of religion.